Three decades after he died, the historian E P Thompson occupies an ambiguous position in British intellectual life. While his reputation as a commentator has declined, he remains someone who has to be referred to, but with little real engagement. His historical work has lasted and if as a Marxist he suffered from the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Maoist Chinese move into capitalism, the current wave of protest movements in the UK echoes his own protest activity and makes bringing his work back into focus a priority. The recent reference to Thompson in the Political Quarterly aligned him with Cowling, Pelling and Namier in a debate over how political history has produced an alleged split between High and Popular history. This is hardly the case with Thompson. Trevor Fisher reviews aspects of his academic life.
Class has been an openly discussed factor in English life for the past two centuries. For radical politics, from at least the Peterloo massacre (1819) onward the emergence of a lower class campaign opposing its exclusion from voting defined a new politics*.
PDFPrintThe Peterloo Massacre in 1819 was so great a shock to the British view their historical development is peaceful and constitutional that it has become legendary. However the legend has obscured the developments which preceeded the events in Manchester, which did not fall out of a clear blue sky. Two years before the yeomanry attacked the crowd in St Peters Field, the emerging working class movement had faced grim choices to achieve solutions to the powerless and poverty which scarred their lives. The March of the Blanketeers and the Ardwick conspiracy both in Manchester, had posed the two alternatives, commonly